First off, let me start by saying that I'm not Muslim.  Nor am I Arab, or Middle Eastern.  I'm American, with a Scottish/Irish background.  Of course, if you got here by way of my main website, you already have figured that out :)  This page is not written with the intent of converting anyone, but is meant to be informative, and to counter some common misconceptions about Islam.  I will put up some good links for anyone wanting further information, as I'm not trying to set myself up as an authority on Islam; I'm just going to go over some basics here :)

Since this page was created on January 6, 2002, you are visitor:

First things first, of course...

TERRORISM

Islam, nor its followers, neither promote nor condone terrorism.  Nor does Christianity or Judaism, although criminal elements from ANY religion may become terrorists for a variety of reasons, and perform heinous acts.  Islam, however, is a religion of peace and tolerance.   I'd like to invite you to read the remarks of Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi, a renowned Muslim scholar, regarding the view of Islam re terrorism. Click here to go read the full text of his article. Amongst other things, he points out a verse from the Qur'an which reads:  

"Who so ever kills a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he has killed all mankind, and who so ever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind," (Al-Ma'dah 5:32).

WHAT IS ISLAM?

Islam is one of the three so-called Judeo-Christian, or "Abrahamic," religions..  Many early historians, the "Orientalists," mostly British scholars, initially called Islam "Mohammedanism."  This is grossly incorrect.  Muslims not only do not worship Muhammad, but would consider it a grave sin to do so.  Muhammad was quite clearly a Prophet, a messenger of God (in Arabic, Allah).  The Qur'an was the book revealed by the angel Gabriel to Muhammad, as the word of God.  Islam believes that other books were sent to other people through other prophets at many times, including Moses and the Torah, and Jesus and the Gospel, in a kind of continuum.  The Qur'an is the completion of these messages from God, as being the final and complete whole, and Muhammad is the "Seal" of the Prophets, meaning that he is the last, until the Day of Judgment, at which time Jesus will return and rule over all the earth.

The word "Islam" itself means "submission," coming from the root word s-l-m, "to submit."  A Muslim, therefore, is one who submits, i.e. to the will of God.  Hammudah Abdulati puts it better in his book Focus in Islam:  

"The word Islam is derived from the Arabic root "SLM" which means, among other things, peace, purity, submission and obedience.  In the religious sense the word Islam means submission to the Will of God and obedience to His Law.   The connection between the original and the religious meanings of the word is strong and obvious." (pg. 7)

The Arab "fatalism" so fond to Hollywood as part of the typical Arab/Muslim stereotype, doesn't exist.  A Muslim does indeed submit to the Will of God, but this is attitude is not quite as you'd think.  Such submission neither overrides one's responsibility for personal choice or decision making, nor replaces common sense.  There's a cute proverb I heard, whose origin I don't know, that sums it up quite nicely:  "Put your faith in Allah, but tie your camel tight."

News flash!  This just in:  that "cute proverb" that I like so much, turns out to be a Hadith, one of the documented sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.

THE FIVE PILLARS OF ISLAM 

I'm sure everyone has heard about these, so I'll just run through them quickly here, okay?  

  1. The first is "Shahada," or declaration of faith.  It is quite simple; one need only state, "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger" to become a Muslim.  Having so stated, the other pillars become incumbent upon the believer:
  2. Salat, or prayer.  Prayer is a moving force in Islam.  Believers pray five times a day, at very specific times, based upon the position of the sun.  It is not enough to just pray five times a day; the believer should, if at all possible, make his or her prayer at the specified time, and these times are very carefully calculated by the Muslim scholars.  Every Muslim is to pray at these times, even the infirm; and the best that you can do, is very acceptable to Allah.  That is, if you are paralyzed and all you can move is your eyes in prayer, then do so, and Allah will hear you.
  3. Zakat, or alms-giving.  There are two kinds of alms-giving, voluntary and obligatory.  Either type  is seen as an act of worship, not just a social obligation.  Obligatory zakat is generally given during the holy month of Ramadan (see below), and is 2.5% of one's savings.... the money that is left after your costs of living over a year (it's a little more complicated than that, I'm just giving the general idea).  There is no formal accounting; it is up to each individual to determine and pay the zakat; the honesty utilized in doing so is between the believer and Allah.  Voluntary alms-giving is actually not zakat, but is termed sadaqah, and can be given any time, not just during Ramadan.
  4. Sawm, or fasting.  Each Islamic year, during the holy month of Ramadan, which is the month in which Muhammad received the first Revelation from Gabriel, all able Muslims fast from daybreak to sunset, abstaining from food, drink, sexual relations, and impure thoughts.  There are special prayers and communal evening meals all through Ramadan, and the month culminates in a three-day celebration, the Eid Al-Fitr, with great feasts and celebrations.  (As a personal note, I have been in both Cairo and Riyadh during the month of Ramadan, and it is really quite incredible.  The entire "feel" of the city changes, and the faith and belief of all the people about you is so strong it practically shimmers in the air, so thick you can all but cut it with a knife,  Ramadan is a special, wonderful time to be in a Middle Eastern country)
  5. Hajj, or pilgrimage.  Every Muslim who is able, physically and financially, to do so, is enjoined to make the pilgrimage to Mecca once in his or her lifetime, to the Ka'aba, which contains the black stone in one corner,.  and the "Zamzam," the well struck open by Gabriel.  This was when Hagar and her son Ishmael were dying of thirst in the desert, having been cast out by Abraham.  (At least according to the Christian account of this; sorry to let the personal preference creep through there; I always thought that an atrocious, heartless thing to do.)  In fact, according to the Qur'an, Hagar and Ismail were not, in fact, cast out, but in fact were established there by Abrahim, who visited them frequently, as did Isaac and his family.  As well, Hagar was not, in fact, a concubine, as some recent versions of the Bible state, but in fact was married to  Abraham.

ISLAM IS MONOTHEISTIC

Muslims believe in one God... only one.  He is not begotten, nor does he beget.  Jesus holds a special place in Muslims' hearts and is beloved as a Prophet of God, and the one who will return on the Day of Judgment.  Muslims do not, however, believe that he is the son of God.  There is only one God, period.  

A Muslim directs his prayers directly to God.  There is no intercession; no priests, no saints.  Man to God, in a direct line.  There are Sheikhs and Imams, who have wisdom and learning in Islam, for guidance and to answer questions, but they do not intercede between Muslim and God, nor are they prayed either to or through.  The mere idea of praying to someone other than God, Himself, is abhorrent to a Muslim.

HADITH 

These are the sayings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad, which are separate from the Revelation of the Qur'an.  They are, however, used as a guideline for Muslims to follow; who better to use as one's measure than a man whom God Himself chose as His Prophet?  As such, Hadiith are very, VERY carefully scrutinized and ranked for authenticity.  Hadith are reports which have come from those who were actually contemporaries of Mohammad and heard and/or saw Muhammad say or do these things.  There are a number of collections of Hadith;  the very best are those of Bukhari and Muslim (the names of the those who collected the Hadith and personally researched the sources), and these are considered unassailable as far as authenticity. 

As an example of how Hadith is used in Islam:  The actual form which the daily prayer takes, bowing, kneeling, reciting, is not actually prescribed in the Qur'an.  How the Prophet Muhammad prayed daily, however, was very carefully noted and dutifully preserved in its format for a century and a half.  Muslims pray alike, in unity, in congregations, whenever possible.

THE ADHAAN:  CALL TO PRAYER 

Ever wonder what it is that you're hearing, when you hear the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer?  Well, here you go:

Allahu akbar.  God is great.  (said 4 times)
Ash-haddu en la illaha il allah.  I believe that there is no god but Allah (twice)
Ash-haddu enna mohammadun rasuul ullah.  I believe that Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah (twice)
Haya as-salaah.  Come to prayer (twice)
Haya al-falaah.  Come to the good (twice)
Allahu akbar.  God is great.  (twice)
La illaha il allah.  There is no god but Allah.

That's all for now... I'm just starting this webpage, and doubtless I'll think of more things to put up as time goes on.  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at the link below :)

As a quick disclaimer, I'm speaking strictly of what I know of mainstream Islam as practiced by Sunni Muslims; I know little about the Shi'a and other schisms and sects, and some things I've written here may not be applicable.

 

Here are some books and website links:

BOOKS:

Islam in Focus, by Hammudah Abdulati 
Islam: The Straight Path, by John L. Esposito

LINKS:

Islamic Studies, Islam, Arabic & Religion
Islam Online
SoundVision.com is a wonderful site with lots of information and articles, message boards, a zakat calculator, prayer times, plus it's a great resource for books and references, etc.  There are also really beautiful Muslim e-greetings cards to send your online Muslim friends
PlanetArabia has this great section for the basics of Islam; don't forget to check out their Arabic Reader to see the Arabic alphabet!

If you have a strong constitution, try Arabia.com for information you're not going to see on the 6 o'clock news.

And don't forget... if you have any particular questions about Islam, or Muslims, you can always contact the local mosque in your area and ask the Imam!

 




 

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